Having this trait as an occasional part of my personality can sometimes cause me to get in my own way. Consider the following: I was once in a show called Visitation Day. It was a three character, one act play. I played the ex-husband who goes over to his ex-wife’s house to pick up his daughter on visitation day. The ex-wife and I get into an argument that the daughter is caught in the middle of, and the play ends with all three characters being pretty miserable. We performed the show many times over about a two-year period at a variety of locations, usually for school children or other youth groups. The show was always followed by a lengthy discussion with the audience about issues relating to being a child of divorce.
It is important to note that the show was never the same twice – we improvised every performance. In fact, there never was a script to begin with, only a general outline. The initial plan was to take the best ideas that came out of our rehearsals and assemble a set script, but we ultimately decided that there was a dynamic quality to improvising it that we wanted to keep, so we took the plunge and decided not to script it.
This approach was largely successful and very gratifying for all of us. But after several performances, our director detected a slight imbalance, which she brought to my attention by saying something like this: “There’s a problem with the argument scene, Chuck. It seems that, no matter how we do it, your ex-wife always comes off sounding like an unreasonable bitch, and you always come off looking like the good guy. We need to balance the relationship.” We decided that we would look for ways to accomplish that at our next rehearsal. So the first time we ran it that day, the greeting between Dad and Val (the daughter) began something like this:
Dad: Hi honey! What do you want to do today?
Val: Could we go ice skating? [Mimes pulling skates out of her bag] Look, Mom just bought me these!
Dad: OK honey . . . Hey, tell you what – come Christmas, I’ll buy you a GOOD pair!
We all stopped and stared at one another. Our director spoke first: “What a rotten, manipulative thing to say! You should be ashamed of yourself! We have to keep that line in the show!” So, in one form or another, that concept became a part of the show. It was an interesting acting exercise for me – looking for ways to be a son of a bitch rather than merely seeking honest communication. It pleased us no end that this line (in whatever form it came out in a specific performance) would frequently cause a murmur to go up in the audience and would often be singled out for discussion during our talk-backs. Many children of divorces told us that it was just the sort of transparent manipulation they were accustomed to. It certainly had the desired effect of making my character a lot less of a great guy, and it seemed to inspire the actress playing Mom to go after Dad with a bit more vehemence.
One final note regarding the self-assessment with which I began this post – I think that whatever truth there may have been to the “Teflon Actor” accusation has been greatly pared away. I think that, by slow increments, I have continued to become more and more unapologetically myself over the years. Although – OMG! – I am still very much a work in progress and hope to remain so!